President Joe Biden has sought to reassure Poland that the United States would defend against any attacks by Russia and acknowledged that the NATO ally bore the burden of the refugee crisis from the war in neighbouring Ukraine.
“Your freedom is ours,” Biden told Poland’s president Andrzej Duda on Saturday, echoing one of Poland’s unofficial mottos.
At the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, the two leaders spoke of their mutual respect and shared goals to end the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“Although times are very difficult, today Polish-American relations are flourishing,” Duda said.
More than 3.7 million people have fled Ukraine since the war began, and two million of them are in Poland.
Earlier this week the US announced it would take in as many as 100,000 refugees, and Biden told Duda that he understood Poland was “taking on a big responsibility, but it should be all of NATO’s responsibility.”
Biden called the “collective defence” agreement of NATO a “sacred commitment,” and said the unity of the Western military alliance was of the utmost importance.
“I’m confident that Vladimir Putin was counting on dividing NATO,” Biden said about the Russian president. “But he hasn’t been able to do it. We’ve all stayed together.”
With the war entering its second month, European security is facing its most serious test since World War II.
Western leaders have spent the past week consulting over contingency plans in case the conflict spreads. The invasion has shaken NATO out of any complacency it might have felt and cast a dark shadow over Europe.
Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said a speech that Biden was scheduled to give later Saturday in Poland’s capital would outline the “urgency of the challenge that lies ahead” and “what the conflict in Ukraine means for the world, and why it is so important that the free world stay in unity and resolve in the face of Russian aggression.”
Biden’s remarks will end a four-day trip that included a series of summits in Brussels. In addition to the meeting with Duda, he attended a meeting of American and Ukrainian diplomatic and defence officials for an update on Ukraine’s military, diplomatic and humanitarian situation.
Biden also visited a stadium in Warsaw where Ukrainian refugees go to obtain a Polish identification number that gives them access to social services such as health care and schools. The city of nearly 1.8 million people grew by 17 per cent in a month.
Biden spoke with refugees and Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski. While Poles have so far welcomed Ukrainians, the humanitarian efforts are largely the work of volunteers, and Trzaskowski has warned that it is not sustainable and that social services are buckling under the strain.
The stadium was built in 2012, when Poland and Ukraine hosted the European soccer championship, and was meant as a symbol of how far the two countries had come since the Cold War. More recently, it served as a field hospital for COVID-19 patients.